Longoio’s very own parish priest left in January 2006. The next year the village’s local shop closed. Its bar had shut some years before that. The Piazza dell’Amicizia “(friendship square”), where it was is now an empty-looking place with half the houses empty for much of the time – a far cry from what it must have been like once. Few friendships, indeed, could be possibly made there now.
Communal meeting places have disappeared. The car park can hardly reckon to be one of those, yet this is the one point in Longoio where people bump into each other most frequently, mainly when manoeuvring their vehicles in and out of the village. Church worship at the parish church of San Gemignano has drastically declined, even with the visiting priest who, like most priests in Italy today, due to a dearth of clerical vocations, has to be in charge of several parishes.
Sadly, the only occasions where the largest numbers of Longoio people congregate are at funerals of their fellow villagers. Since coming here in 2005 I have witnessed several of these unhappy but inevitable occasions. I’m not sure how many – perhaps just ten. But, in a place where there barely more than twenty people residing permanently, this is a very significant number.
The most recent funeral I attended was only yesterday and it was that of someone who’d been my closest neighbour for some time. A lovely lady, nicknamed “la spagnuola” because she spent much of her life in that country and mother to our resident artist (see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/10/02/a-sculptural-quality/) , E. would sing in a tuneful manner to herself and always have a friendly greeting for us. Her loss is the loss of another decent person who brought up a family correctly in the hardest of post-war Italian times and was always positive about life despite the evident hardship it had inflicted on her.
Italian funerals are conducted within the shortest possible time after the decease. This is because embalming of the body is not common practise. My neighbour died on Saturday; her funeral was on Monday at the parish church, with the actual interment being next to those of her family members at the Ponte a Serraglio cemetery.
Another point I realised about Italian funeral is that the coffin is not usually interred in a dug trench but in a ready-made cemented recess in the ground. There is no point of reciting “earth-to earth” here; there are no gravediggers, only builders who will, after the coffin has been lowered into the stark recess, cement its sides and place long masonry bricks across and, when all is eventually set, replace the original tomb covering.. until the next time.
While clearly being resigned to the fate that will await us all I have never felt the presence of death with such intensity as in the place where I live now. Perhaps it is because the faces are not many and are so familiar that when one of them disappears from ever the impact is so much greater than when one lived in a large metropolis.
Unlike some still-prudish Anglican customs, children here are always in attendance at funerals – there is no question of excluding them from the gloomy procedures. Indeed, the last act to be done over my dear neighbour’s coffin was the placing of a single red rose by one of her youngest grandchildren before our local builder placed the final masonry brick across the top of the recess and, in the fast-declining sun of a cold wintery day, seal it with cement.
Farewell dear E… these lovely flowers in Spanish colours accompanied you on your last journey. May you now rest in peace!